An early night doesn’t necessarily equate to a good sleep, as I’m beginning to discover, rather a clear mind is the key; one that isn’t switching off with a million thoughts and worries tightening their grip and suffocating your sanity. Yesterday’s talk of tackling sandy tracks – now with even more weight on the bike than our Fraser Island attempt – is enough to ensure I wake feeling as though I never went to sleep.
Still, not wanting to put a dampener on the day ahead I get up early and begin the massive task of unpacking each bag, sorting the gear, and then repacking them to minimise wasted space and make room for the extra supplies we will need over the coming days.
Food items require the most thought whilst packing the bags. You need to consider every aspect; from when each item will be used, to how much each item weighs. There are few things as frustrating as having to unpack bags in search of a critical item that should have been accessible, or packing the bags only to get on the road and find that the left bag is heavier than the right! Coupled with 35 degree heat and a hundred flies trying to bathe in the sweat pooling on every non-vertical surface of your body, it’s a meltdown just waiting to happen!
Hours pass and the sun loses its cool, early morning charm. The heat is incredible. I find it hard to imagine that anywhere else in Australia is this hot so early in the morning, and then I check the time and realise it’s actually 1PM and we’ve spent the entire morning packing the motorbikes and double-checking today’s route. Still, we hit the road in the midday heat, fill up with 91 octane on the way out of Weipa, and then hit the PDR once again.
With every extra km/h we pick up over the groomed surface I feel my core temperature drop just a little more. We sail along the road out of town effortlessly at speed in an attempt to utilise the comparatively smooth roads whilst we have the chance.
We take the turnoff for Batavia Downs, heading east through a cattle ranch and cutting 60 kilometres off today’s ride, and then follow it as it opens out onto endless dusty plains. The first 15 kilometres packs a lot of variety into the surface and as such the style of riding required. Initially, we’re met with a series of corrugation patches that alternate between the left of the road and the right. This forces us to weave between them in an attempt to keep all of our teeth rattling free from our jaw. Once we’re up and running this proves to be a very exciting type of riding – almost mimicking a technical forest route without the danger of clipping a tree as the tail sits proud on full-throttle exits!
Then, as the road widens so too does my boyish grin. I kiss the rev limiter on a number of occasions as we find the peaks in the undulating road and momentarily shed all weight that would normally keep the rear solidly grounded. The surface consists of a hard-packed clay with the occasional patch of shallow, manageable bulldust.
Over the next 10 kilometres we’re subject to multiple bone-dry creek crossings, where the road crests and then suddenly drops – usually veering to the left – into a cement causeway or wooden bridge, before mimicking the entry in reverse and spitting us back out onto the open plains once again! Every creek crossing exit provides indescribably immense enjoyment as I feed in throttle and gears as fast as the engine will let me, until we’re sailing across the plains; ducking behind the windscreen in an attempt to minimise the neck-snapping wind resistance as a result of our sheer speed!
With just a little over 10 kilometres to go until we intersect Telegraph Road we find ourselves climbing up, higher and higher as the road works its way through a small cut-out section of the mountainside. We bridge the crest with a long sweeping right-hander, then a left, and suddenly the horizon comes into view. Just above the green treetops and far into the distance is an enormous cloud and smoke formation. The plumes of dark, wildfire smoke are topped with small puffs of white cloud, creating a skyscape that looks identical to snow-capped mountains! As you can probably appreciate this is a most bizarre discovery whilst traversing one of the hottest, most tropical corners of Australia.
We wind down the mountain and past a small cattle station before hitting Telegraph Road, where Brogan is waiting patiently for us in the blazing hot sun. We decide to take a quick rest, if for nothing else other than to appreciate how beautiful and diverse our morning ride across Batavia Downs has been.
Seemingly out of place is the tarmac that we’re about to ride on. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and the only other sealed surfaces have been around townships or well established communities in the Peninsular. We don’t want to waste too much time on the side of the road, and so after a quick look at the map we open the throttle and head north toward Bramwell Junction.
It doesn’t take long before we’re back on dirt roads, though these are some of the nicest unsealed roads we’ve experienced on the trip thus far. We pass a lone road worker who looks to be swapping between machinery as he prepares the surface for a dose of hot-mix.
With such premium conditions we find a comfortable, steady pace and stick to it. The landscape in front is riddled with vibrant greens and the deepest reds, while the rear-view mirrors are clouded with a wall of dust stretching 20ft into the atmosphere and merging with the sky. Just before we reach Moreton Telegraph Station we pass over the Wenlock River – one of Cape York Peninsula’s most famous river systems for a number of reasons, though mainly due to its length, ability to sustain the highest diversity of freshwater fish species, and as a result of the smorgasbord of fish the large volume of saltwater crocodile inhabitants.
We pull up outside the station, though decide to continue on without a break as we’re on a roll. The pace increases once again and for the first time in a long time I look down at the speedo to find we’re sitting on an indicated 130 km/h. My ears are somewhat numb from the constant bellow of the FMF muffler, so I hadn’t noticed the higher RPMs, and with roads as straight as this you tend to pick up a few extra km/h without even noticing! The DR is surprisingly compliant at these speeds, and the engine still has enough grunt to deal with the pesky patches of bulldust that try to catch us by surprise, with little more than a flex of my right wrist to transfer the weight over the rear tyre. We devour 40 kilometres before stopping at the turnoff for Bramwell Station to stretch our legs. The intersection is situated at the top of a very slight incline, which gives us just enough altitude to see over the treetops and expose the outback’s ocean equivalent once again.
We get back on the road, which has taken a serious dive in quality, and spend our time dodging potholes and patches of bulldust deep enough to bring us down in an instant. Luckily we’re only dealing with a 15 kilometre stretch before we reach Bramwell Junction. Both Brogan and I top up the tanks with the only fuel on offer, at a somewhat inflated $2.05/L!
After we fill up and pay for the fuel the young lady who is working here by herself mounts her quadbike, whistles to her dog, and then takes off down the road and out of sight! We take a look around, contemplate paying and staying here for the night, though then decide to get a head-start on tomorrow’s adventure instead; making our way up the Old Telegraph Track to find a suitable camping spot for the evening.
Just a few of those who succumbed to the PDR
We navigate to the left of Bramwell Junction and follow a narrow, overgrown trail that we can only assume is the Old Telegraph Track that we’re looking for. It isn’t sign posted, though the sand beneath my tyres gives it away. I brace my tired arms for the worst and throw caution into the wind by feeding in the throttle until I feel it hit the stop. The track is tight and technical, and it demands precise inputs and unwavering focus. There’s no room for second guessing my judgement whilst riding in conditions like this; there’s no room for mistakes to be made!
The conditions worsen the deeper we ride into the unknown. We call it a day after a mere 10 kilometre stint through the sand, stopping on the southern side of Palm Creek; an incredibly scary looking challenge that I cannot bear to face today. There’s a 15ft, undulating drop that – at first glance – looks to be impossible to ride into. The creek bed is bone-dry, which is about the only aspect working in our favour! There are tell-tale signs of serious struggle; twisted metal that is impossible to identify, smashed glass strewn across the creek bed, and substantial ruts as a result of too much throttle and not enough momentum – all of which cancel-out any confidence I’ve built up by assuring myself we’ll be just fine riding 2UP without a support vehicle on one of the most challenging tracks Australia has to offer.
We park the motorbikes to the left of the entrance and spend the next 10 minutes assessing the situation. I joke about it this evening, but I just know tomorrow is going to be the most challenged I’ll have ever been on a motorbike, especially if Palm Creek crossing is anything to go by.
I try hard to distract myself from the thought of actually riding into that monstrosity first thing in the morning by unpacking the gear and setting up our swag for the night. We gather a few sticks for a small fire. The setting sun just beyond the silhouetted trees casts the most beautiful shades of burning reds and purples on the horizon, that then rise up and fade into the dark blue night sky. The moon and a scattering of stars make themselves known, and I completely lose myself in the beauty of it all. There truly is no substitute; the untainted outback sky, thought-provoking by nature, forces you to stop and take time out to simply appreciate your surroundings.
We lay awake until the wood is but a dusting of black coal, before sliding into the swag and drifting off to sleep under the perfectly clear, starry night sky.